Aug 3, 2010

RI: Chafee Continues to Tweak Independent Campaign Strategy

From the News Tribune:
Among Chafee's hurdles is defining himself in voters' minds without a party to help. During the baseball game, he was asked by a group of women why he switched from Republican to independent.  "It wasn't my party anymore," he said, then ticked off a list of his views, from his support of gay rights and environmental protections to concern about budget deficits.

But his message didn't get through to potential voters.  "He said he's independent," Angela Nunes, a 32-year-old school teacher, said later. "He didn't articulate why."

Brown University political scientist Wendy Schiller said political parties provide clear signals to voters about candidates' policies and provide candidates an organization that sells their messages.

"In order to overcome the lack of a party organization that does all these things, an independent candidate has to be doubly inspirational and crystallize his or her message around one or two issue areas that have strong resonance with the voters," she said. "Chafee has done none of this."

When asked what message he's sending to voters, Chafee says it's experience and honesty. His biggest policy proposal has been to levy a 1 percent sales tax on currently exempt items as a way to help close budget deficits without pushing up property taxes.

While he says his plan shows he's got the courage to take unpopular stands, it's a tough message in a state where unemployment was among the worst in the country in June, at 12 percent.

Chafee has a solid bloc of what he calls "Chafee loyalists" and hopes to bring on board interest groups such as Hispanics, environmentalists and gay rights advocates. He points out the state's Republican Party has been ailing for years and in his past campaigns he felt as though he were mostly on his own.

This year, he said, is no different.

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